I really think that it will be possible in the next few years to have a computer take a topic and create a lesson to teach it. Up till now, it was more of an intuition but a friend of mine jogged my memory on something from my previous career.
I used to teach how to make video game content. When you see a video game you have code, which you don’t see, and content which you do. Think of it as the difference between a script and actors. It used to be that each piece of content you see on screen was crafted by hand by a digital artist. When games were small, it didn’t take too many resources to do this but the last 10 years or so the amount of money spent on this content has drastically increased. In fact, some new video games have budgets approaching Hollywood movies. With the new generation of video game systems just around the corner, game companies have been looking for an alternative to hand crafting each item. The answer some found is procedural generated content.
This means for example that instead of creating a tree by hand, you teach a computer program what a tree looks like. You create a series of rules that a tree has to follow and some general guidelines. What you get in the end looks like a tree but the appearance can’t be precisely controlled. The true power here though is you can then have the system generate a hundred tree variations instantly and make a forest.
So once you have the rules or procedures to create an object, the system can do it for you in many variations.
Here’s a video of a product called Speedtree that is used in games and actually was used to create the forests in the movie Avatar.
Pretty cool stuff. My idea then is to take this same technology and apply it to curriculum. Can we devise a set of rules about what has to be in a curriculum. We have them already, they are called Learning Objectives. (They can also be called Common Core). Does a lesson follow a particular pattern? Sure. Introduction/overall question, background, new ideas, questions/feedback, and finally assessment. Can you program a computer to create this automatically? You probably can do it today but I’m not sure of the quality yet. However, here’s why it’s going to happen eventually. Like our tree example, once you create it once, the system can then replicate many variations of the same curriculum. The variations in this case would be influenced by an individual student’s learning styles and interests. This is how you get to true personalized learning.
Is this going to happen? I think so because lots of companies are working on machine generated content for web sites. That same technology will be used for education I’m sure.
So does this replace a teacher? It certainly replaces some of them but sometimes to learn skills you need practical demonstrations and hands on experience. What this will do is free up the teacher’s time from lecturing about the same thing to all the students and let them spend more one on one time with them instead. Remember, if you can be replaced by a machine, you deserve to be.
This would be awesome!
Here are my other posts about Machine Generated Content.